Friday 21 June, 2002
Good morning.  The highlight of my week was an opportunity to attend the launch ceremony for Boeing's new model 747-400ER airplane.  This was held in the world's largest building - one of the Boeing buildings at their Everett, WA plant, with perhaps 5000 people (mainly Boeing employees) present to celebrate the roll-out of the first plane of this new model 747 (and the 1308th 747 built in total).

A Boeing executive made a few defensive comments about the future of the 747 series, and after some fun entertainment the doors opened and there was the new plane.  It still needs to undergo some flight testing and certification before being handed to its new owner, Qantas, probably in November.

This Week's Column :  Air Fares Aren't Fair :  Even the traditional airlines themselves now admit that their present airfare pricing structures are no longer acceptable in today's marketplace.  It just doesn't seem fair that the guy beside you paid four times as much (or maybe four times less!) than you did for the same flight.  I don't have a magic solution, but I can explain some of the reasons why this happens.  And, if you have suggestions for improvements, please let me know after reading the column - I'm hoping to analyze reader replies next week.  Maybe, together, we can help the airlines!

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Half closing a loophole :  The good news - the DoT announced a new rule last week that now requires private charter flights to subject their passengers and carry-on baggage to similar security screening as that already in place for public charters and regular scheduled flights.  The bad news - there is no requirement for security on checked luggage, just carry-ons and the passengers themselves.

Playing leapfrog :  Continental Airlines pilots said last week they will seek to close a pay gap of 30% to 40%, compared with pilots at other major airlines - they say that in 1998 they had parity, and now have fallen this far behind. They also want to close a gap of up to 60% in retirement benefits, in contract negotiations that are scheduled to begin July 15.

ALPA President Duane Woerth gets this week's Enron Accounting Award for saying that Continental could afford to match the salaries paid at other airlines. "Finally catching up with wages isn't going to put Continental at a competitive disadvantage," he said.  As my column this week points out, the major airlines are already at a massive cost disadvantage, due to their enormous costs, of which labor is the highest cost.  Does anyone reading this really think that it makes sense for airlines to pay pilots as much as $300/hour?  Does that make the pilots fly any better?

Wouldn't you like a job that had a 30-40% increase in pay over the last four years, plus a 60% increase in already massively generous benefits?  And a job that gives you free flights galore, and $300/hr?  Or to work for a company that, while in its most difficult and unprofitable time ever, can be asked to give you a 30-40% increase in pay!  I'm reminded of the joke about the shape of the 747 - 'Why does the 747 have a hump on it?  So the pilots can sit on their wallets!'

If you're like most people today, the chances are your favorite high-tech gadget is not your computer, but your cellphone.  Can you imagine life without one?  I too have a cellphone, but I look at it with wary distrust.  The slowly unfolding story of 'is cellphone radiation harmful' looks to me for all the world identical to the way that cigarettes slowly ended up being accepted by everyone (except the tobacco industry, for the longest time!) as causing lung cancer.  Here's the latest story on this growing worry.  My suggestion - keep your cell phone switched off as much as possible, and keep your calls short; use a regular phone whenever possible.

In related cellphone news, I've added an extra paragraph to my article on international cellphones that is of value even to domestic travelers.  It links to a list of US states and foreign countries that have restrictions on using cellphones while driving.  More and more jurisdictions are banning this activity - it might pay you to check the list before you next travel.

ASTA catching up with ARTA - but three months late!  Almost immediately after the airlines zeroed out agency commissions in March, the smaller US agency association, ARTA, came up with some innovative programs to assist their member agencies still get commissions by arranging for tickets to be issued in foreign countries (where the US carriers continue to pay commissions!).  Now, three months later, ASTA is coming out with a similar program.  Question to the travel agents who read this :  Which group do you think is more pro-active in helping you in these difficult times!

This Week's Security Horror Story :  Passengers on a weather-delayed United Airlines flight Friday afternoon from Washington to Chicago were fuming after Sen. Ben Nelson (D, NE) asked to get off instead of wait.  Perhaps because he was a US senator, the airline staff allowed him to do this.  So far, no problem.  But then the crew proceeded to order everyone else off, too, for another security check!  A United spokesman subsequently agreed that Nelson's fellow passengers should have been allowed to stay aboard.  Is this the type of intelligence we get from United's $300/hr pilots???  I've met $5.50/hr security screeners with better sense than this.

Although Al Gore has his faults, not even his most unsparing critics think he might take it into his head to hijack an airplane!  But that didn't stop airport screeners from pulling him out of line as he was preparing to board a flight from Washington to Milwaukee last week and running him through the full ''security'' check: body scanned, briefcase rifled, underwear pawed through. And it didn't stop them from doing it to him again the next day when he flew to New York.  And so the 45th Vice President of the United States now has something in common with the 44th (Dan Quayle, in case you'd forgotten!) - both have now been subjected to extra security checks at airports that have nothing to do with security and everything to do with political correctness.

Meanwhile, lapses of the most incredible nature continue.  An elderly British woman intending to visit family in California ended up in Central America after getting on the wrong flight. She was going to San Jose, CA but boarded the wrong flight in Newark. When she didn't show up on the flight her family called Continental and were informed she was in San Jose, Costa Rica.  Someone apparently failed to check her ticket when boarding.

Security good news and bad news.  The good news is that the government appears to remain committed to reducing wait times to get through security down to ten minutes, maximum.  The bad news - this article documents wait times of up to 90 minutes at Philadelphia.

So when will improvements occur?  Well, the original plan had the TSA taking over security in 40 airports by mid-May.  This was then revised down to 15 airports by 1 June.  At present, they have almost completed taking over the security in only one airport (Baltimore) and the latest revised schedule hopes them to get to 2 airports by next Tuesday.  This article has more detail.

Lastly, have you ever seen the phrase 'third freedom' (or some other number) when referring to airline routes and services.  I've added a new page to the website which explains what the eight different freedoms of flight are.

Until next week, please enjoy safe travels.

David M Rowell aka The Travel Insider
ps :  Don't forget to visit Joe Brancatelli's site for his weekly updates, too.

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